What happened on his final voyage?
In 1776, James Cook was renowned for his seamanship, surveying and exploring. He had commanded two great voyages of discovery around the world and become the first European to visit many parts of the Pacific. Now promoted to captain, he set out on his third and final voyage of exploration with two ships, the Resolution and Discovery.
After so many years spent exploring, Cook was a confident commander and experienced in meeting with people of different cultures. Yet there is evidence in some of his officers' journals of Cook showing violent behaviour and poor judgement during this third voyage, both towards his own men and towards the people they met. He burned towns and sank canoes in reprisal for minor thefts by the islanders during his visit to Tahiti in 1777.
In 1778, Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to visit Hawaii. However, he risked wrecking his ship while navigating unexplored territory in thick fog in his search for a northern passage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Was Cook tired or ill after all his years of voyaging? Did this affect his judgement? We don't know for sure.
- Spot the ship's cutter.
- Find the ship missing its foremast.
- Look at the buildings in the village. How many people might be living there?
1. Look at Source 1. This drawing shows the two ships Resolution and Discovery at anchor with the cutter (a ship's boat for carrying stores or passengers) alongside and a village in the background.
- Firstly, record your evidence of the following:
- The poor condition of Cook's two ships
- That the islanders were no longer very friendly
- The actions of Cook that angered the islanders
- The actions of the islanders
- What happened when Cook tried to return to his boats?
- Use your evidence to write your radio programme script. You might like to use this framework to help you to get started:
- In 1779 Captain Cook returned to Kealakekua Bay in the Hawaiian Islands. He had only left a week before when relations between him and the islanders had become unfriendly. Cook was forced to return because...( Insert your evidence from point 1 here )
- On his return the islanders were no longer very friendly as Lieutenant John Rickman wrote...
( Insert your evidence from point 2 here )
- There is evidence in the journals of some of his men of Cook showing unstable and violent behaviour during this voyage. When the Resolution's large cutter was stolen he...
( Insert your evidence from point 3 here )
- Cook's actions angered the islanders. They...
( Insert your evidence from point 4 here )
- When Cook tried to return to his boats...
( Insert your evidence from point 5 here )
- Cook was killed on Sunday 14th February 1779 because...
( Look back over the evidence. Who or what do you think was most responsible for Cook's death? Was it those who sent him to the Pacific with ships in a poor condition, the islanders, Cook's officers and marines who failed to rescue him, or Cook himself? Now write your conclusion. )